The breathtaking sights of Eastern Oregon are more than picture-worthy. They are memorable. From the terra-cotta red sands and hills to the dusty, desert plains to the Blue Mountains and vast, blue skies, it’s a geographical canvas filled with earthly color.
Let’s take a look at some basics on Eastern Oregon:
Eastern Oregon consists of 8 counties in which these main cities reside: Hermiston, John Day, Baker City, La Grande, Ontario, Pendleton, Fossil, Mitchell and Burns. Hermiston is the largest city in Eastern Oregon and thrives off of major trades such as farming, tourism, timber and warehousing.
The climate in Eastern Oregon differs from that of Western Oregon. In fact, the weather is so different in the eastern side of the state that many visitors are often surprised! Oregon has the reputation of being a rainy state; however, that’s only the western side of the state. The eastern side of Oregon is dry with a mixture of desert, plains, mountains, buttes and beautiful landscapes. On a yearly basis, it receives less than 10 inches of rain! Despite much of the region being a high desert, it’s partially covered with pine and juniper forests. Although, these forests are seen in the mountainous areas. Eastern Oregon is often thought of as the last part of the Wild West. You can experience the mystery of the old ghost towns, pay a visit to the original Oregon Trail or become mesmerized by the Painted Hills.
Join us as we take you on a ride through the best parts of Eastern Oregon.
Alvord Desert near Steens Mountain
Located in the southeastern corner of Oregon is the Alvord Desert. This place is every bit as real as all the descriptions you’ve been told. Sitting in the rain shadow of the Steens Mountain, it’s a 12 mile long, 7 mile wide desert. It’s essentially a dry lake area that receives as little as 6 inches of rain each year. The hard, cracked, barren stretch of land resembles that of an Armageddon scene. From this cracked lake bed, you can view the mountain range for as far as the eye can see. It’s in the middle of nowhere, so the only sound you here is of your own breath. It separates you from society as you know it while consuming you with its haunting beauty.
Although the Alvord Desert is considered a cold climate desert, temperatures can rise as high as 100 degrees Fahrenheit in the summertime. However, most times, it’s a chilly place to be. Mother Nature has a keen sense of humor though! The Alvord Desert may get chilly, but there lies several hot springs along the edges. There’s Alvord Hot Springs, Mickey Hot Springs and Borax Lake. (The hot spring temperature at Borax Lake stays around 180 degrees Fahrenheit- we would recommend lounging and warming in that water!)
In addition to the mesmerizing landscape, the wildlife is beautiful. If you camp out on the edges of the desert, you can sometimes see wild horses migrate across the cracked, barren land. Many times their seeking a fresh drink of water from some of the streams on the outer edges. It’s a magnificent sight. Be sure to take your camera!
While you’re in the area and scoping out the Alvord Desert, you should also check out the grand Steens Mountain. It isn’t any ordinary mountain. This is a massive fault-block mountain that stretches about 50 miles in one direction. Due to its unique formation, it looks like a mountain range! Surprise! It’s one, huge fault-block mountain that towers over the Alvord Desert by at least 9,700 feet at its highest point.
If you’re in search of an extreme adventure, work your way to the top of Steens Mountain with the 275 mile loop road. On your way to the summit, you will experience the wild, untouched beauty of the valleys, groves of trees and pure, crystal clear lakes. As far as wildlife, you may encounter foxes, wild horses, and deer. There are pit stops along the way should you need a snack or something cold to drink. However, those small communities are very spread out. Always pack enough water to last you for a few days when venturing out in the wilds of Eastern Oregon.
Pillars of Rome
Located due east of the great Steens Mountain is the picturesque landmark called, “The Pillars of Rome”. Just outside of Rome, Oregon, it is large rock formation that resembles pillars of the ancient Roman ruins. In fact, its eerie resemblance to the ancient Roman ruins is how the town of Rome earned its name.
The Pillars of Rome are rocks made from fossils that have naturally been etched over time. These 100 foot tall pillars are huge in size! They measure a whopping 5 miles long and 2 miles wide. In the days of the pioneer settlers, these large rock formations worked as a map landmark in their travels to the Oregon Country.
For those that enjoy white water rafting, the town of Rome offers you the opportunity to venture down the Owyhee River. This wild adventure will showcase breathtaking canyons, plant life and wildlife such as deer, badgers, and birds.
Keeney Pass Historic Site
You can’t visit Eastern Oregon and not check out the history of the Oregon Trail. Just outside of Vale, Oregon sits Keeney Pass. Named after one of the original Oregon Trail pioneers, Jonathan Keeney, this historic site still preserves the wagon ruts from the trail. Near the Snake River, this one-third mile trail is marked with brown posts to showcase those original wagon ruts. They’re deeply cut into the earth and have remained carefully preserved for 170 years! At one point of Keeney Pass, you can overlook another segment of the trail that extends a mere 15 miles. In those days, a 15 mile trail would’ve taken all day to travel. Today, that’s roughly a 25 minute drive by car!
At Keeney Pass, you’ll enjoy the historical markers as you walk along the original Oregon Trail and appreciate the sheer strength and courage of those early settlers. This is a day park, so you can’t camp there. Be sure to take your own water and snacks as there are no restrooms or water available. However, it’s completely free to visit this incredible place of history.
The Wallowa Mountains
Not far from Joseph, Oregon is the famed Wallowa Mountains. This beautiful piece of nature attracts adventure seekers from all over the country. It’s in these mountains that you can view the high desert on one side and then see several states from the other side. Many folks love to climb to the top of Mt. Howard while visiting the Wallowas. You can either hike your way up there or go horseback. It has an elevation of 8,000 feet, so be prepared for a real climb!
There’s plenty of cabins for the whole family to stay in. And, if you prefer camping, Wallowa Lake has that option as well! People enjoy spending summer nights by the lake and grilling hot dogs underneath the towering Wallowa Mountains. The air is often fresh and crisp but never too hot.
The nearby city of Joseph also provides family fun with plenty of places to shop, play and eat. The area is known for their distilleries and chocolate shops! If you’ve been traveling awhile in the Eastern Oregon terrain, take a break in the Wallowas. You won’t regret it!
Not far from the Wallowa Mountains is the widely known Hells Canyon. Riding the border of Eastern Oregon and Western Idaho, the Snake River flows through the intricately carved canyon. The Snake River reaches an astounding depth of 7,900 feet at its deepest point and is carefully preserved by the government.
The river through the canyon is full of large waves that make for fun boat riding and boat tours. People flock to Hells Canyon every year to ride the large jet boat for the ride of a lifetime. Bouncing off the white-crested waves and soaking in the unique sights of the canyon provide an incredible experience that’ll leave you wanting more. The Snake River is named for having tremendous curves and bends. This natural ride places shame on theme park rides. There’s nothing quite like it!
Don't Waste Any Time! Visit Eastern Oregon Today!
Now that you’ve been shown the many incredible sights to see in Eastern Oregon, plan your trip today! Eastern Oregon is full of multiple ecosystems that have evolved from the drastic change in landscapes. This part of the state consists of the high desert region to the majestic mountain ranges to sandy hills and lush forests with lakes and rivers. It’s literally the best of all worlds packed into Eastern Oregon. We hope that you enjoy your visit!
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